Artist: Lorenzo Botticelli (1445-1510)
Dimensions: 1.72m x 2.78m
Location: Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy
Subject: Birth of Venus
Period: Italian Renaissance
Medium: Tempera on Canvas
Venus, the goddess of Love and Beauty.
Botticelli, did much justice at portraying her abode on human lands as she sails through the oceans in her marvelous white seashell. While there is so much an artist and a storyteller could debate on, let us walk you through the aisles of history. Let’s get the wheels rolling as we visit Italy, of the 15th century. The Rome of Botticelli. The home of an artist when renaissance struck across the European continents. The century of uprisings.
Sandro Botticelli was born in 1445, to a tanner. Since an early age he was smarter and sharper than his kind. The typical characteristics of any genius known in history were not unknown to him either. He was easily bored at school, had a sharp wit and was fond of practical jokes. Soon he outgrew what the schooling system then had to offer, and it was his good fortune, this talent did not go unnoticed. There after he was sent to work as an apprentice and made valuable contacts while he was learning.
As an Artist
He began his career painting frescos for churches and cathedrals in Florence. Alongside, he was also working on engraving skill sets. At an early age of 25, he started working independently and soon onboarded young men to work for him. The contacts he made during his early years drew him work from one of the richest families of France. Botticelli started working, almost exclusively for the Medici family. Most of his remarkable and well-known pieces are said to have been commissioned by the Medici lineage. Word of his fine work spread to all parts of the country like a wildfire.
In the year 1481, the Pope of Rome summoned him to join hands in decorating the walls of the then recently constructed Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. It is through his work in the Vatican that he started gaining an audience on the world stage. An audience much deserved.
He was extremely creative with his work until 1490s. It was during this period he painted the ‘Birth of Venus’, one of the most celebrated pieces of art till this date. His works concentrated heavily on mythological characters, especially Mars and Venus. His works aptly relate to his witty and adventurous nature. A trend setter of his times.
Many of his non-religious works were burned during a political crisis in Florence when a religious monarch came to power. The Birth of Venus was not among the unfortunate lot. Soon his work would be overshadowed by competitors, Michelangelo and Da Vinci.
End of an Era
As glorified his youth was, the last years of his life were rather dark. Losing his creative touch and patrons, old Botticelli was faced with remorse, isolation and poverty until he drew his last breaths in 1510. A well decorated life, not well concluded.
It is estimated that this masterpiece was commissioned by a patron from the Medici family, although much is not known. It is a hypothesis drawn out of extensive display of orange trees(mala medica) which are considered as an emblem of the Medici dynasty.
Paintings on wood were more common in those times and using a canvas base was less popular and this was one of the early canvas works.
This was the renaissance period where nude art was constrained to showcases of Adam and Eve, or biblical male figures, and this painting consists of full-size nude portraits. It was only in the beginning of the 15th century that artists had begun to portray nude figures. The art was new. Botticelli was a one of the pioneers. These were the times when nudity in Christian art resonated with cruel encounters and trauma. Christ on the cross would be a close example. This was the first of its kind where the subject was a mythological character and instead of depicting sorrow and darkness, it portrayed life. Nude art was seeing new light.
The theme of the Birth of Venus was taken from the writings of the ancient poet, Homer. According to the traditional account, after Venus was born, she rode on a seashell and sea foam to the island of Cythera. In the painting we see here, Venus is prominently depicted in the center, born out of the foam as she rides to shore. On the left, the figure of Zephyrus carries the nymph Chloris (alternatively identified as “Aura”) as he blows the wind to guide Venus. The breath of Zephyrus was believed to fertilize and create new life. Carrying Aura along symbolizes his love for her.
On shore, a figure who has been identified as Pomona, or as the goddess of Spring, waits for Venus with mantle in hand. The mantle billows in the wind from Zephyrus’ mouth.
Much of the storytelling lies in the details. The goddess wears her long blond hair that brings out her beauty as she stands tall and naked, while she covers her modesty using her golden locks. The colors emphasize on her milky skin so much that one would say she was freshly carved out of marble. The portrait of Venus pays extreme resemblance to Simonetta, wife of Florentine royal. She was a legendary beauty and Botticelli admired her beauty so much that he had requested to be buried at her feet.
Relevance in the contemporary times:
The Birth of Venus has not always been famous. It was only after centuries of oblivion this masterpiece was resurrected to light in the 19th century. Over the years, number of explanations from a variety of historians, scholars and field experts have been gathered. Nonetheless, it stands as a symbol of beauty and love.
The artwork is a mystical image that traps us and leaves us in a state of contemplation while the warm colors leave us with a sense of harmony and balance.
Disclaimer: Please note that the information used here has been researched from the internet and the writer is aware that there is more information which has been left out due to the restrictions regarding the length of the article.
Article Written by : Pronomita Dey
My aim is to find a goal so magnificent that the very thought of reaching there makes me laugh.